Slowly Simmered Dreams

I have finally achieved one of my goals in life: I have a slow cooker. I know. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a really huge development for me as a person.

Isn't she pretty?

Isn’t she pretty?

There are some things you just can’t make without a slow cooker. You can live without those things, but your life would be devoid of joy. You may think you are happy now, but there is happiness you can’t even imagine on the other side. CB asked me last night if our slow cooker has been off since we got it, and I was able to answer ‘yes’ only because I haven’t done any overnight experiments yet.

I’m convinced that my slow cooker can time travel (it is parked next to the TARDIS) or, at least, look into the future. When I first set it on the counter on Monday, I stared for a moment, contemplating what I should first make. It reached out to me, explaining that chicken noodle soup was truly the only option. I even had leftover roasted chicken from Sunday’s dinner! How did it know that, the very next day, I would feel bad and need something comforting and wholesome to eat? It’s magic!

One of the most appealing things about a slow cooker (and the real selling point for CB) is that I can make dinner at any time during the day. I sat down to write this post at 10:30am, and tonight’s dinner is already done. It is, honestly, a matter of practicality. In my ever-growing quest to understand my body, I had to realise that I don’t always have the energy to make dinner at dinner time. When it gets to be about 5pm and I’m not sure I can roll myself off the couch to cook, it makes the option for unhealthy take-away that much more enticing. If I’m brimming with energy at about noon, why not make dinner at noon? A slow cooker gives me the flexibility to create a healthy meal without undue strain on my body. I also already have three slow cooker meals in the freezer, ready to be thawed whenever we want them. I made almost an entire week’s worth of dinners in one day. One busy afternoon — without too much pressure because they didn’t have to be on the table at any particular time — and I had one dinner for that night, one for the fridge, and three to be frozen. I was inordinately proud of myself and intend to integrate it into a weekly ordeal.

Last night, I also made this apple pie risotto from our gfree life.  I added two tablespoons of flax meal to the recipe (I just can’t help myself).  It was amazing — sweet without being too sugary, dessert-y without being heavy, and filling enough that CB had some for breakfast instead of his usual porridge.

CB kept calling it "crumble" because that's what it smells like.

CB kept calling it “crumble” because that’s what it smells like.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken, pre-cooked and shredded or uncooked (It will cook along the way)*
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
dash of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 big handful kale, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups broccoli, in small pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro/coriander OR 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried basil OR 1/2 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
Choice of noodles/pasta — I used 2 cups of brown rice shells; eyeball how much you need and remember they will expand when cooked

*You can use bone-in chicken if you take the weight into consideration and understand that you may get loose bones in your soup. It does add a certain richness in flavour, but I don’t like taking the chance.

Hardware:
Slow cooker
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and 2 forks, if uncooked chicken is used

Directions:
Dump all ingredients EXCEPT noodles/pasta into the slow cooker. Stir together and cook on low for 6 hours.

Choose your own adventure:

A. If using precooked chicken, stir in your noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

B. If using uncooked chicken, remove it from the slow cooker at this time. Place it on the cutting board and carefully use the forks to shred the meat. Return to slow cooker with noodles/pasta and cook on high for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I was so excited for this soup.

I was so excited for this soup.

Tiny Tacos

There is a new favourite in our household, and it goes by the name of Tiny Tacos. It has been long-established that a sure-fire way to market any product to me is to make it smaller. You wouldn’t believe the little knick-knacks I have just because they’re small and adorable. I used to make paper cranes out of Starburst wrappers; then, I realised I could use the scrap from it (cut off to leave the wrapper square) to make even tinier ones. The smallest I got was just under 1cm tall. I’m a bit mental.

I bought these.  I don't need them.  But they're tiny.

I bought these. I don’t need them. They’re tiny.

Regardless, Tiny Tacos are very tasty, and they are reasonably quick to throw together. I’m in the home stretch of essay-grading, but every moment spent away from the red pen feels like it needs to be justified. We’re also nearly a week through the Love Your Greens Challenge, and it has made a truly exciting addition to our diets. While Tiny Tacos aren’t exactly bad for you, they’re not the best healthy food, either, so the green smoothies have made me feel less guilty about putting these things on a plate. If you’re at a loss for how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, knock out some easy Tiny Tacos and feel very fake-Mexican, indeed.

Tiny Tacos

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, diced into small cubes
1 teaspoon cumin*
1/2 teaspoon paprika*
1/2 teaspoon black pepper*
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder*
1/2 teaspoon garlic*
a few leaves of fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
1 15oz can refried beans (or make your own. no judgment either way.)
2 cups grated cheddar or blend of cheese, divided
1/2 cup medium salsa
about 10 chopped black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
bag of gluten-free tortilla chips
sour cream
lettuce, chopped
* If you have a taco seasoning mix or packet that you like, go for it instead of the spices listed here. I prefer to make my own spice mixes, but I am well aware that not everyone does.

Hardware:
Chopping board
Medium saucepan
Medium frying pan
Casserole dish
Cheese grater
Wooden spoons
Spatula
Knives
measuring cups and spoons
stove
oven

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Crush enough tortilla chips to cover the bottom of your casserole dish. You don’t want to put too many because they will get soggy; the idea is to form a bit of a crust, not to have a crunchy bottom.

Very helpful Matryoshka

Very helpful Matryoshka

In the saucepan, stir together the refried beans, 1 cup of cheese, and the salsa. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking and burning (as there is very little liquid). When warmed through, stir in the chopped coriander/cilantro and spread across the tortilla chip base in your casserole dish. Smooth with the spatula.

It's not pretty, but it's relatively smooth -- Casserole dish after two layers

It’s not pretty, but it’s relatively smooth — Casserole dish after two layers

After spreading the bean mixture, put the olive oil, cumin, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic in the pan. Heat the pan over medium heat to infuse a bit of the spices into the oil. Add the diced chicken and completely coat with the oil mixture. Cook until done, at least five minutes depending on the size of your chicken bites. Add the chicken evenly on top of the beans in the casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese and chopped olives. Bake for about 10 minutes — everything that needs to be cooked is already cooked. You just want to make sure everything is warm and the cheese is melted.

If you have thick handmade or handmade-style tortilla chips, you can toss the toppings (sour cream and lettuce) right on and eat it like a dip. Our chips were not so sturdy, so I scooped each bite onto a chip with a fork and topped it like I would a taco. After all, they are Tiny Tacos.

Megon Comes to Visit — and Brings Chicken Salad

I first met Megon more than twenty years ago (eep!). Her sister, Heather, was my very first best friend, and, thanks to the magic of the internet, our families have reconnected.  A wee while ago, we met up with some other ladies at Heather’s house for a seed swap.  I brought that peanut butter pie I made, and the only other thing I could eat was Megon’s chicken salad.  Once I tasted it, I didn’t mind so much!

One month ago today, Megon made the commitment to her body to do what she knew she had to do and stop eating gluten.  She may have gone kicking and screaming, but she never looked back.  In the past month, she has had medical and personal developments to show her that gluten-free was the way to be.

Leaving gluten behind is not easy.  Through watching her, I realized that, even though I am 100% aware that it’s what’s right for my body, I don’t know if I could go through it all over again.  It is brutal.  In honour of her strength — and the strength of all you gents and ladies who have gone through the same thing — I’m sharing her chicken salad recipe.  Even better is that the recipe is super-easy.  Eat it up.

Megon’s Coronation Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs cooked chicken breast, shredded
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoon apricot preserves
1/4 small yellow onion, finely minced
1/4 – 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tablespoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Hardware:
mixing bowl
knife
wooden spoon
food processor

Directions:
Pulse the apricots in the food processor.  Dump all the other ingredients except the chicken into the food processor to combine.  When fully integrated, empty into the mixing bowl and stir in the chicken.

It’s great served with crackers or tortilla chips . . . or on bread . . . or on a spoon.

Jennifer Esposito Calls out CBS, and I Make Tacos

Lest I fall into the same pattern as the shops around town, I made sure to make my mother a gluten-free dinner that didn’t have to be made with exceptions or substitutions.  It’s not hard to find a cake or cookie suitable for a gluten-free lifestyle in Tesco or M&S; this is not to say that they are all tasty!  However, it’s much harder to find a decent loaf of bread.  Considering all the foods that have “hidden” gluten — meaning, not just bread — it’s more important that we can eat dinner than dessert!

As I watch my mother struggle with her new lifestyle, I realise how lucky I was to have supportive folks around me as I worked my way through the changes.  I did it very much alone in the sense that I didn’t know anyone who could give me advice or show me the ropes, but I did have my husband (while he was still on the way to being my husband) and our families for moral support.

All these thoughts were piqued today when I read this article: Blue Bloods’ Jennifer Esposito Departs Show, Slams CBS For Its ‘Shameful Behavior’.  I don’t know this actress (I mean, I’ve seen her in things) or anyone else on the show or in the network, so I can’t speak to what truly happened.  However, her words “[…] CBS implied that I was nottruly ill […]” struck such a chord with me.  I know most Celiacs don’t like to actually say “Celiac Disease” because it sounds so terrible like that.  However, it IS a disease, and it is something that requires actual treatment and consideration.  Some people think that, just because the most-known treatment is not eating particular food that it’s not as bad as other diseases.  You don’t hear people saying the same about Diabetes, which also involves a specific diet as a major form of treatment.  While, like I said, I don’t know for a fact that CBS acted terribly, her phrasing makes it sounds real.  It is something that happens, and it shouldn’t.

Anyway, so, in an effort to support my mother through the process and show her that real food is within reach, I made tacos.  Tacos have long been one of her favourite meals, but removing both beef and gluten from her diet have made the concept of making them unappealing for her.  What follows isn’t really a recipe for tacos as much as it is just a chronicle of the meal.

I made tortillas with masa harina (OH! That is what was in the mystery jar! Mystery solved!), water, and sea salt in my tortilla press. I fried them without oil in a cast iron skillet and kept them warm until everything else was prepared.  I battered the chicken lightly in a seasoned corn meal and pan fried.  It was served with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa (I decided against the salsa because of my recent surgery).  It was a great send-off for my mother’s last meal in Belfast (this time!).

tacos